COVID: Tough times for German youth entering the job market | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.04.2021
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COVID: Tough times for German youth entering the job market

German teenagers say the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult to start their professional lives, according to a new survey. Young people seeking vocational training are among those impacted.

students in a classroom, a covid mask on a desk

German high school and middle school graduates find it hard to enter the job market

The numbers are alarming. More than 70% of young men and women in Germany say opportunities on the job market have diminished during the COVID-19 crisis. And among young people who leave school with low levels of education, that number is higher still — at 78%. That is the disturbing outcome of a new report put out by the iconkids & youth polling institute on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation.

"Training opportunities in the second year of coronavirus" is the title of the latest study. Researchers interviewed 1,700 14- to 20-year-olds online and in video conferences. This is already the second survey of its kind, following one from July 2020. The number of young people who say they are worried about their professional future is up by 10% from last year.

Watch video 02:24

German apprentices face trying pandemic times

Would-be college students optimistic

The coronavirus crisis has triggered insecurity among Germany's youth. But the nuances are important. Those wanting to go into vocational training tend to express more concern about the future than their counterparts aiming to go on to study at the college level. Of that second category, only a quarter believe that their chances of getting a place at a college or university have been reduced since the outbreak of the pandemic. This is perhaps hardly surprising: after all, college places have not generally been cut. The big problem is that studying is itself getting tougher because in most instances it takes place almost entirely online.

Jörg Dräger is a member of the executive board at the Bertelsmann Foundation. He says there is another reason behind the diverging perceptions of what opportunities might lie ahead: "Youngsters who have completed their high school graduation (the German Abitur), are virtually guaranteed a place to study." Meanwhile: "In hard times, we simply neglect youngsters with basic levels of qualification. And that isn't fair."

image showing that 71 percent of German youths find it harder to get vocational training than before the COVID pandemic

COVID impact on vocational training

Germany has what it calls a "dual" vocational training system: To become a baker, a mechanic, or a carpenter, for example, school graduates have to complete a two- to three-year-long program, where they spend half their time in one company doing training on the job, guided by senior professionals, and the other half is spent at a vocational school, where there is a mix of general education as well as courses teaching the theoretical basics for the individual professions. More than half a million young people embark on vocational training in Germany each year. A middle school degree is usually a sufficient prerequisite.

While the number of places in higher education has remained constant, the market for vocational training places has shrunk during the coronavirus crisis. The Bertelsmann study highlights how the number of vocational training contracts fell by 9% last year. Many companies hesitate to make long-term commitments like taking on a trainee for three years. As a result, only about a fifth of all companies in Germany actually offer training opportunities. That leaves a lot of young people wondering what sort of future lies ahead. Among those currently looking for vocational training possibilities, more than half say that supply does not come close to meeting demand.

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Apprentices in Germany get a raw deal in the coronavirus pandemic

Two-thirds say they learn about job opportunities from their parents. And, of course, many of those parents have been spending more time than usual at home due to the pandemic. There has been very little vocational orientation counseling on offer over the past year.

The big challenge for many youngsters is to even begin to understand what opportunities there are for them, with 54% of those questioned saying they find that difficult. Information is, it seems, not getting through to the people who need it most.

Schools, in particular, are failing to provide sufficient vocational counseling. Over the past decade, more and more high school students in Germany have been opting for college or university training.

Meanwhile, German businesses are desperately seeking skilled labor.

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Small businesses bear additional COVID-19 costs to keep doors open

Boosting interest in vocational training

Around 41% of the 14- to 20-year-olds in German secondary schools say they can envisage going into vocational training. But that number could be higher, especially among those with a higher education level. The study concludes that there needs to be more and better orientation assistance in schools.

Among those questioned, 53% said they think that the government is doing too little or even nothing at all for young people seeking training opportunities, which is slightly more than last year.

"We need to ensure that each and every young man and woman has the opportunity for professional training — especially in this time of crisis," says Bertelsmann's Jörg Dräger. It is, he adds, a question of equal opportunities and a necessity to ensure that Germany has enough skilled workers in the future. "Every crisis kills jobs. We saw that back in 2008. And this will be the same sort of thing." 

The German government has recognized the need to intervene and support the vocational training system in the pandemic. In March, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil announced there would be financial support for companies willing to commit themselves to take on trainees: €700 million are to be spent to support trainees in companies that are struggling in the coronavirus crisis.

This article has been translated from German.

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